Harvard faces off against publishers

Harvard faces off against publishers
Harvard faces off against publishers

An email from Harvard University's Faculty Advisory Council over the cost of professional journals has touched off the latest round in the universities vs publishers sparring match.

The April email, which was  distributed to faculty, said publishers have “made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive.” The note says the university spends $3.8 million on journals yearly, with some costing up to $40,000, and that its libraries are hamstrung by costs associated with bundled purchases, in which libraries buy title collections.

The council urges faculty to submit work to open-access journals or those with “reasonable, sustainable subscription costs.” It also counsels them to demand subscription contracts that can be made public and buy high-demand journals à la carte.

Harvard did not return calls by press time and did not identify any publishers. However, Elsevier and Nature Publishing Group told MM&M that they have good relationships with Harvard that offer flexibility.

Tom Reller, a spokesperson for Elsevier said libraries  “always have options to purchase individual articles, subscribe to titles or to sets of journals.”

Nature Publishing Group's Patrick Carpenter told MM&M that Harvard licenses its content through the NorthEast Research Libraries Consortium, which provides user licenses for 28 research centers. Carpenter said that bundling isn't an issue for consortium members, because they “do not have forced bundles.” He added that when  NERL offers bundles it also has an à la carte option.

The tensions between academia and publishers are evidenced by the dust-up between Elsevier and Cambridge University professor Timothy Gowers. whose protest has over 10,000 supporters. NPG faced a protest two years ago, when the University of California system threatened a boycott when subscription rates were poised to jump 400%.